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Thursday, March 30, 2006

Rupert Murdoch casts canny eye on the future

In March 2006, Rupert Murdoch, CEO of News Corporation, made a speech to the Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers, an honourable society of newspaper and media proprietors in London. His speech was entitled: “The Dawn of A New Age of Discovery: Media 2006” and it probably proved to be quite unsettling for the esteemed guests.

The tone of his speech was set early on when he noted that “Societies or companies that expect a glorious past to shield them from the forces of change driven by advancing technology will fail and fall.” From there on it was a highly-charged homage to the challenging power of the “new medium” worthy of any digital evangelist. Although he is an evangelist who would acknowledge that he has come late to the party, he is certainly making up for lost time and putting his money where his mouth is. News Corporation in the last year has gone on a trail of acquisition worthy of the heady days of the internet boom. Among their recent purchases is the myspace.com portal (for which they paid reputedly €580 million (€400 million)) which Murdoch describes as follows in his speech:

This is a networking site in which millions of people, aged mainly between 16 and 34, talk online to each other about music, film, dating, travel, whatever interests them. They share pictures, videos and blogs, forming virtual communities. Since launch just two years ago, the site has acquired sixty million registered users, thirty five million of whom are regular users. This is a generation, now popularly referred to as the “myspace generation”, talking to itself in a world without frontiers”.

News Corporation have obviously realised the limited nature of their once pioneering satellite technology in comparison to the potential connectivity of broadband, whether wireless or fixed line. As such they have started to buy up a number of broadband providers and BSkyB, their pioneering interactive television network, has started to experiment with broadband as an alternative distribution network.

But at the heart of their acquisitiveness is a tremendously perceptive understanding of the market and the changing demographic, certainly driven by Murdoch’s own canniness. His speech may in some ways be regarded as a watershed, a true acknowledgement that the “new medium” has arrived. He talks about the power “moving away from the old elite in our industry - the editors, the chief executives and, let’s face it, the proprietors” and into the hands of a new generation of media consumers who are demanding content to be delivered “when they want it, how they want it and very much as they want it.”

Of course, this is perhaps just music to The Hub’s ears as we have been discussing the growing power of the “new medium” for some time. When someone of the stature of Murdoch endorses this view, we just get all rosy-cheeked. On closer inspection though, his speech could be seen as a eulogy to the passing of the age of the “media barons” as information rapidly becomes democratised through connectivity. He ties this implicitly into “the state of the world” as he notes the rising tide of fundamentalism and the forces that would seek to stem the “free market capitalism” that is at the heart of his media empire. In many ways, this speech clearly shows his political colours – not that they haven’t been apparent enough through the editorial line followed by his various media titles from The Times to Fox News.

Though there is also perhaps an air of uncertainty about the future in his remarks. One would get the impression that he is not entirely happy that the flow of information seems no longer in the hands of a powerful minority, although he doesn’t specifically state this. But sensing the inevitable he has perhaps embarked on a plan to facilitate this flow of information with a view to at least guiding it. One gets the feeling that Mr. Murdoch has a very clear idea of how the world should work. Underpinning his address is a definite “zeitgeist” – the implicit understanding that there is an impending threat of doom ahead, whether it be religious wars, a global energy crisis or environmental catastrophe. Again, Murdoch’s hopes seem pinned on the very thing that has made him his fortune – technology. And he understands that it is the medium of technology itself that has given us the great leaps in innovation in recent times - through unparalleled connectivity.

We have seen great advances in the field of bio-technology and medicine due to the simple fact that researchers can share information over the internet. Now it is the public’s turn – perhaps we can resolve our differences, whether political or religious, through online discourse and access to each others social networks. Perhaps we can better understand each other through glimpses into each others lives – where we live, what our favourite music is, who our God is. Or perhaps, we will just use this great tool as another medium to promulgate hatred and bigotry. At least, now the choice is ours. Maybe that’s what worries Murdoch most.

Full text of speech is available at: http://www.newscorp.com/news/news_285.html

posted by Neil Leyden @ 5:20 p.m. 0 comments

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Neil Leyden's Screenwriting deal

Digital Hub writer in movie deal Dublin-based animation scriptwriter signs deal with creator of Mulan - Read the full story here. (Silicon Republic)

http://www.iftn.ie/news/index3.htm?fuseaction=getbody&file_ID=4171 (IFTN)

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/newspaper/0,,176-2092006,00.html (Sunday Times)

Neil Leyden, an Irish writer based in The Digital Hub in Dublin, has just signed an option for his first feature length animation script with Danish based production company, Fiddler’s Green. The script titled "Alphabet City" is a children’s fantasy which will be produced entirely in CGI.
Fiddler's Green was set up by Hollywood screenwriter, Philip Lazebnik whose screen credits include Disney's "Mulan" and "Pocohantas" as well as "The Prince of Egypt" for Dreamworks. He is developing the script in partnership with European animation studio, A Films.

The film is set to be directed by Oscar nominated European director Stefan Fjeldmark who most recently directed "Asterix and the Vikings", the biggest animated feature ever produced in Europe. He also directd "Help, I’m a Fish!" in 2000.

This is Leyden’s first feature-length animation script, although he has written many live action scripts. He is currently working on a second animation project which has garnered significant interest from a number of US production companies.

Leyden’s own media consultancy company, Calico Media (www.calico.ie), is based in The Digital Hub cluster in Dublin city and it has proved a fertile creative ground for his screenwriting pursuits as he is surrounded by a wealth of television, animation and games production companies."

posted by Neil Leyden @ 6:23 p.m. 0 comments

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Podcasting in Ireland

We've discussed in previous posts the phenomenon of podcasting and the potential threat it poses to traditional broadcast models as well as the opportunity it offers content providers who are savvy about the "new medium". A quick assessment of the state of market seems that things are going very well in terms of the digital distribution of audio and, increasingly, video. At the end of February, Apple iTunes announced their billionth download since launching three years ago; the site now boasts over 3,500 music videos, 35,000 podcasts,16,000 audiobooks alongside its catalogue of over 2 million songs. On top of that, Apple has netted sales of over 40 million iPods - in their various shapes and forms. That is before we take into account sales of the myriad of other MP3 players from manufacturers such as Creative Zen, Philips and Sony (with their revamped Walkman brand). In terms of podcasts, it is also noteworthy that Ricky Gervais has announced plans to re-launch his own highly successful podcast on a subscription basis. So, with that in mind, it is re-assuring to see an Irish company in The Digital Hub getting into the fray of this potentially lucrative market.

Digicast Ltd. is a new and dynamic Irish company which aims to exploit digital technology to fully maximise its potential to transform content creation and communications. Their website www.podcastingireland.ie hopes to be the portal of choice for all things relating to podcasting in Ireland as well as a portal for new podcasting channels like Making Waves .

The company's backers are certainly experienced hands. The CEO is Joe Conway, a senior manager with hands-on experience in developing and implementing technology-based business tools. Helen Shaw, former Director of Radio at RTE, is heading the creative and production team behind the enterprise. The Chief technologist is Simon Factor of Moving Media, an analogue archive digitization service that used to have its base in The Digital Hub but moved to larger premises in Blanchardstown Corporate Park due to rapid expansion. In many ways, Digicast is one of the first off-springs of The Digital Hub cluster - where Shaw's own company, Athena Media was based beside Factor. 'Being in the cluster here in the Digital Hub has allowed me to cross ideas with like minded companies - including Simon Factor's Moving Media company - about potential projects and collaborations.", says Shaw. "Simon and I had been talking seriously for some months about how to create a project which could build on the strength of quality content being delivered through digital technology."


Making Waves will be Ireland's first bespoke professional podcasting channel with the intention of bringing new bands, acts and artists together. A weekly episode will star a new Irish artist or band performing their own original material. The flexibility of the medium will mean that users can subscribe and download these episodes and listen to them at their leisure. This is the real thrill of the medium - flexibility.


The response from artists - many of whom are extremely technically-literate - has been phenomenal. Already familiar with using new technology to create their music, the chance to use it further for distribution was a "no brainer". As Shaw points out "many are already using the Internet to allow sampling of their music."

The commercial model is perhaps a bit trickier. Digicast's ultimate plans are to connect their channels like Making Waves with sponsors and support their free channels through Internet advertisement and an online shop. This will mean that they will be competing with the main broadcast stations in terms of advertisers. But the aim at present is to get subscribers - and the target age group are certainly that elusive bunch of 15 - 35 year olds that advertisers are increasingly struggling to reach.

A further innovation that Digicast offer is corporate podcasting . This service provides public and private companies and organisations with a one stop shop for multimedia communications delivered through the Internet and available for downloads. Kingspan Century, the maker of timber frame homes, is their first commercial corporate."Podcasting can be used for internal and external communications and for delivering training seminars and workshops.", Says Conway, "We see tremendous scope for corporate podcasting - using both audio and video - and point to the track being created in the US with companies like IBM using podcasting extensively to communicate with staff and customers."

But Podcasting in Ireland is becoming a much wider phenomenon - although still a minority interest. There are a number of blogs and websites dedicated specifically to Irish podcasting such as http://podcaster.blogsome.com/ and www.doop.ie/podcasting_news/. Notable Irish podcasts include the popular radio podcasts from RTE Radio 1 (www.rte.ie/radio1/podcast/ ), Phantom FM (www.phantomfm.com/now/podcasts.htm), Near FM (www.nearfm.ie/podcast), Newstalk (www.newstalk106.ie/podcasting.html) and the goeat.ie (www.goeat.ie) video podcasts. From a digital media perspective one to check out is Tom Rafferty's Digital Rights Management Podcasts. (www.tomrafteryit.net/everything-you-blog-is-false/)


Podcastingireland.ie launches on March 10th with the launch in The Village in Dublin of the podcast channel Making Waves. Artists from the Making Waves channel will perform live for a media and marketing launch which will give Digicast's team the opportunity to showcase podcasting and it's potential.

posted by Neil Leyden @ 12:05 p.m. 2 comments